Shemini: The Mishkan's Two-Part Dedication Ceremony

This shiur provided courtesy of The Tanach Study Center In memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag

For some reason, the dedication of the Mishkan required two consecutive ceremonies:

  1. The seven day "miluim" service - which was the final topic of Parshat Tzav (see Vayikra 8:1-36);
  2. The special korbanot offered on "yom haShmini" - the 'eighth day' - i.e. at the conclusion of those seven days  - the first topic in Parshat Shmini (see 9:1-24).

As the details of these two ceremonies are very different, it would only make sense to assume that each one served a different purpose.

In the following shiur, we attempt to uncover the purpose of each of these two ceremonies, while showing how their presentation in Sefer Vayikra can also help us arrive at a deeper understanding of how we celebrate the holidays of Yom Kippur and Shavuot.


The Torah's description of these two ceremonies in Sefer Vayikra is certainly an anomaly, as this is the only section of narrative in the entire book - everything else in Sefer Vayikra is simply laws!

Therefore, in our shiur, we must explain not only what this narrative is about, but we must also explain why it is 'inserted' at this point in Sefer Vayikra.  To do so, we begin our shiur with a quick review of the first half of the Sefer Vayikra, to identify the precise point where this story is told.

What 'Belongs' in Sefer Vayikra

Vayikra began with the laws of korbanot that the individual can (chapters 1→3) or must bring (chapters 4→5); and continued with the laws for how the kohanim should offer these korbanot (chapters 6→7).

At this point (towards the end of Parshat Tzav, see 8:1), this continuous presentation of mitzvot is 'interrupted' by a set of stories in chapters 8 thru 10:

  • Chapter 8 describes the seven day "miluim" inauguration ceremony of the kohanim and the mizbeach,
  • Chapter 9 describes the Mishkan's inaugural ceremony on "Yom haShmini" [the 'EIGHTH day'] when God's glory 'returns',
  • Chapter 10 describes the story of the tragic death of Nadav and Avihu on that day.

Then, in chapter 11, Sefer Vayikra returns once again to its presentation of various laws pertaining primarily to the Mishkan. [This presentation of LAWS continues till the end of the Sefer!]

[Parshat Shmini concludes with the laws of "tumat ochlin" (see 11:1-47); then Tazria/Metzora continues with other laws relating to "tumah".]

This peculiarity becomes more acute when we consider that this entire narrative (i.e. in Vayikra chapters 8→10) may actually 'belong' in Sefer Shmot.  Recall how Sefer Shmot concluded with the story of Mishkan's assembly and its dedication.  [In case you forgot, review chapter 40, especially 40:12-14!]

Furthermore, the story of the seven-day "miluim" most definitely 'belongs' in Sefer Shmot.  Recall that its original commandment was first recorded in Parshat Tetzaveh (see Shemot chapter 29, compare with Vayikra chapter 8).  Considering that Parshiyot Vayakhel/Pekudei record the fulfillment of every other commandment recorded in Parshiyot Terumah/Tetzaveh, there is no apparent reason why the seven-day "miluim" ceremony should be the only exception!

In summary, we have shown that stories (in general) don't belong in Sefer Vayikra, while this specific one DOES belong in Sefer Shmot. Hence, our shiur must explain why the Torah prefers placing this story in Vayikra in what appears to be an 'interruption' to its presentation of the mitzvot.

To do so, we must first explain the difference between the details of the Mishkan found in Sefer Shmot in contrast to those found in Vayikra.  Then will discuss what is special about each of the two dedication ceremonies to explain why they are recorded specifically in Sefer Vayikra (and not in Shemot).

Between Shemot and Vayikra

There is a very simple distinction that explains why we find the laws concerning the Mishkan in two different books.  Sefer Shmot describes the details of its construction, while Sefer Vayikra explains how to use it.  For example, recall how Shemot chapters 25-31 (Parshiyot Terumah/Tetzaveh) constituted a distinct unit describing the commandment to BUILD the Mishkan, while chapters 35-40 (Parshiyot Vayakhel/Pekudei) detailed how it was actually built.  In contrast, the first seven chapters of Sefer Vayikra explain the various korbanot the individual can (or must) bring and how the Kohanim are to offer them.

However, for some reason the details of the seven-day miluim ceremony are recorded in both Shemot and Vayikra!  Parshat Tetzaveh details its commandment, while Parshat Tzav tells the story of how it took place.  To understand why, we must consider the purpose of this ceremony, and relate it to the above distinction.

The Seven Day "Miluim" Ceremony

Let's review the primary elements of this ceremony:

  • First, Moshe must anoint the Mishkan, its vessels, the kohanim, and the "bigdei kehuna", using the "shemen ha'mishcha" oil (see 8:5-13).
  • Then, on each day three korbanot are offered:
  • A CHATAT - one "par" (bull)- the blood is sprinkled on the upper section of the MIZBEACH
  • An OLAH - one "ayil" (ram)- the blood is sprinkled on the bottom of the MIZBEACH
  • The MILUIM offering (like a SHLAMIM) - one "ayil" (ram) - the blood is sprinkled on the KOHANIM.

(see Shemot 29:1-37 & Vayikra 8:14-24)

This anointing ceremony can easily be understood as the final stage of the Mishkan's construction.  So too the korbanot, for the sprinkling of their blood also appears to be a type of anointing.  From this perspective, this ceremony should be included in Sefer Shmot, at the conclusion of the set of laws to build the Mishkan. [And that is exactly where we find it (see Shemot chapter 29 and the shiur on Parshat Tetzaveh).]

On the other hand, the ceremony is also the FIRST time that korbanot are actually offered.  Hence, it also serves as the first FUNCTION of the Mishkan, for this is the first time that it is being 'used'.  Hence, the details of the ceremony are also recorded in Sefer Vayikra, together with the other laws how to use the Mishkan.

[The deeper meaning of this is discussed in Part Two.]

With this in mind, let's discuss the purpose of the additional ceremony that takes place on the 'eighth day'.

Yom HaShmini

On "Yom HaShmini", the day following the completion of the seven day 'miluim', the Mishkan becomes fully functional.  Furthermore, on this day, Aharon and his sons will officiate for the first time. Thus, a special inaugural ceremony is necessary (see 9:1-24), which will be quite different than the seven day 'miluim'.

On this day, we find a commandment to offer a special set of korbanot whose purpose is stated explicitly:

"This is what Hashem has commanded you to do IN ORDER THAT the PRESENCE of God ('kvod Hashem') may APPEAR to you" (9:6)    [see also 9:5]

Recall that due to the sins of "chet haegel" God had taken away His "shechinah" from the camp of Bnei Yisrael, the very same "shechinah" that Bnei Yisrael had witnessed at Ma'amad Har Sinai:

"Moshe took the tent and pitched it OUTSIDE the camp, FAR AWAY from the camp and called it the OHEL MOED. Anyone who sought God would have to go the Ohel Moed located OUTSIDE the camp." (See Shemot 33:7 and its context)

When Moshe ascended Har Sinai to receive the second luchot, God promised him that His "shechinah" would indeed return to the camp (see 34:8-10), however it was first necessary for Bnei Yisrael to build the Mishkan to facilitate its return. [Note Shmot 25:8 -"v'asu li mikdash v'shachanti BETOCHAM" - in contrast to 33:7.]

Once the construction of the Mishkan was complete, the special korbanot of Yom haShmini mark its climax - for they will facilitate the RETURN of the SHECHINA:

"For today God's glory (kvod Hashem) will appear to you" (9:5) [See also 9:23-24, compare with Shmot 24:16-18.]

Therefore, the special korbanot offered during this ceremony serve a double purpose, reflecting this background:

  1. They must atone for the sins of "chet haEgel".
  2. They must recreate the experience of Ma'amad Har Sinai.

This is precisely what we find:

(1) Due to CHET HA'EGEL:

Aharon must bring a chatat and olah:

"He said to Aharon: Take an 'EGEL' for a CHATAT..." (9:2)

Bnei Yisrael must also bring a chatat and olah:

"Speak to Bnei Yisrael saying: Take a 'seir' for a chatat    and a an 'EGEL' and a 'keves' for an olah..." (9:3)

(2) To 'recreate' MA'AMAD HAR SINAI:

Bnei Yisrael must also offer a Korban Shelamim together with their olot, just as they had offered when God appeared onto them during Ma'amad Har Sinai (see Shmot 24:4-11, read carefully!).

"[to Bnei Yisrael, cont'd.,...] and a 'shor' and 'ayil' for a SHELAMIM to offer before God, and a mincha, FOR TODAY GOD WILL APPEAR TO YOU."  (9:4)

[This parallel emphasizes, once again, the purpose of the Mishkan as a perpetuation of Har Sinai.]

Yom HaShmini/Yom Kippur and Shavuot

Although the special korbanot of Yom HaShmini were a 'one-time event', we find a very similar set of korbanot that are offered every year on Yom Kippur which reflect this very same purpose.

Yom Kippur

Recall from Vayikra chapter 16 that on Yom Kippur a special Chatat and Olah are offered by the Kohen Gadol and another set are offered by Bnei Yisrael. Recall as well that these korbanot are offered on the very same day that Bnei Yisrael received atonement for chet haEgel!

The following table highlights this parallel:

Chatat: EGEL PAR (an adult egel)
Chatat: SE'IR SE'IR
Olah: KEVES EGEL AYIL (an adult keves) (+ korbanot in Pinchas, i.e. par ayil & k'vasim)

[The basic structure of korbanot is the same. The minute differences can be explained due to the special nature of Yom HaShmini.]

Hence, Yom Kippur can be understood as an annual rededication of the Mishkan, especially from the perspective of its purpose as a site where Bnei Yisrael can receive atonement for their sins.


Even though the primary parallel to Yom HaShmini is clearly Yom Kippur, there was an additional korban SHELAMIM offered on Yom HaShmini that doesn't find a parallel on Yom Kippur.  [This only stands to reason, as a korban Shelamim is eaten, and on Yom Kippur we are not allowed to eat.]  However, we do find a parallel to this korban on Shavuot, which just so happens to be the only holiday when Bnei Yisrael offer a 'collective' Korban Shelamim:

"And with the 'shtei halechem' you shall offer an olah... a chatat... and two lambs for a ZEVACH SHELAMIM" (Vayikra 23:19)

Recall as well that the first time Bnei Yisrael offered a shelamim was at Ma'amad Har Sinai (see Shmot 24:5). As the Mishkan was to perpetuate that experience, we find a korban Shelamim offered at the inaugural ceremony of the Mishkan on Yom HaShmini. To remember that event, we offer a special korban Shelamim (shel tzibur) every year on Shavuot, commemorating Ma'amad Har Sinai. It is not by chance that this korban, like the korbanot of Yom HaShmini, is offered at the completion of seven cycles of seven days.

Nadav and Avihu

At the conclusion of this ceremony, Nadav and Avihu are punished by death for offering "aish zara" which God had NOT COMMANDED (see 10:1-2). Again we find a parallel to Har Sinai and chet haEgel. At Har Sinai, Bnei Yisrael AND the Kohanim were forewarned:

"And God told Moshe: Go down and WARN the people that they must not break through [the barrier surrounding] Har Sinai, lest they gaze at Hashem and perish. The KOHANIM also, who COME NEAR HASHEM, must sanctify themselves ("yitkadashu" - compare "b'krovei akadesh"/10:3), lest God punish them." (Shemot 19:21)

[See also Chizkuni on Vayikra 10:3-4.]

As this inaugural ceremony parallels the events of Har Sinai, the warning concerning approaching Har Sinai also applies to the Mishkan. Extra caution was necessary.

Similarly, just as Aharon, despite his good intentions, had sinned at Chet haEgel, in suggesting an action which GOD HAD NOT COMMANDED, so too his children Nadav and Avihu. Despite their good intention when offering this "aish zarah", God DID NOT COMMAND them to do so! [Recall the repetition of "ka'asher tzivah Hashem et Moshe in Parshiyot Vayakhel/Pekudei.]

Because of these events, i.e. the improper entry of Nadav and Avihu into the Mishkan, Sefer Vayikra continues at this point with a discussion of the laws of "tumah v'tahara", which regulate who is permitted and who is forbidden to enter the Mishkan (chaps 11-16).

Why in Sefer Vayikra?

Now that we have explained the purpose of these two dedication ceremonies, we must explain why this lone lengthy narrative of Sefer Vayikra is recorded in this sefer instead of in Sefer Shmot.

One could suggest that this narrative, even though it may technically 'belong' in Sefer Shmot, is recorded specifically in Sefer Vayikra because of the special connection between this narrative and the laws of korbanot in Sefer Vayikra:

The special "ayil" offered during the 'seven day miluim' ceremony, we explained, serves as the 'prototype' for the korban SHELAMIM for it included the separation of the "chazeh v'shok" for the kohen offering the korban. Therefore, this narrative is recorded immediately after the laws of the korban SHELAMIM in Parshat Tzav (see 7:35-37 & the shiur on Parshat Tzav).

Similarly, the special korbanot offered on Yom haShmini can be understood as the 'prototype' for the yearly korbanot offered yearly on Yom Kippur as detailed later in chapter 16, and the special korban Shelamim offered on Shavuot as explained later in chapter 23. Finally, the narrative describing Nadav & Avihu's forbidden entry in the Kodesh serves as the introduction to an entire set of laws concerning who CAN and who CANNOT enter the Mikdash, beginning in chapter 11 and continuing thru chapter 16.

Accordingly, we can continue to understand Sefer Vayikra as a 'book of laws' - "torat kohanim".  However, it includes this narrative describing the dedication of the Mikdash for that story serves as the basis for various types of korbanot that are offered in the Mishkan.

In the shiurim to follow, we will continue to discuss this theme.

Part Two - "Kedusha" in the 'Seven Day' Miluim Ceremony

Review once again the details in chapter 8, noting how there is something special about the MIZBEACH and the KOHANIM.  Even though the sprinkling of the "shemen hamishcha" was sufficient to sanctify the Mishkan and its vessels, the MIZBEACH and the KOHANIM required an additional procedure. Furthermore, unlike the other vessels, the mizbeach was anointed SEVEN times (see Vayikra 8:11).

To understand why this additional procedure was necessary, we must note the use of the word "l'kadesh" in this 'parshia'. Note the Torah's use of the word "l'kadesh" in Vayikra 8:10-12, 8:15, 8:30,34-35 as well as Shemot 29:1,34-37!  Clearly, the purpose of these seven days was to sanctify - "l'kadesh" - the Mishkan.

The Hebrew word "l'kadesh" means 'to set aside' or 'to designate'.  For example, in Breishit 2:3, God sets aside the seventh day ["vayekadesh oto"] to make it special, and in Shemot 13:1, God commands  "kadesh li kol bechor" - set aside for Me every firstborn.  Similarly, God is "kadosh", as He is set aside, divine, above all.

Hence, the purpose of these procedures of the "miluim" ceremony was to 'designate' (and hence sanctify) the Mishkan and its vessels for a Divine purpose.  However, the MIZBEACH and the KOHANIM required a little 'extra' sanctification.

To explain why, we must return to our conclusion from our shiur on Parshat Tezaveh that the Mishkan [= OHEL MOED, a tent of meeting] served as the place where Bnei Yisrael could 'meet' God. However, this 'meeting' was distanced, as each 'partner' had his special realm:

  • The KODESH KEDOSHIM - where the ARON is placed represents God's presence in the Mishkan; and
  • The MIZBEACH - where the Bnei Yisrael's korbanot are offered, represents Am Yisrael, and their attempt to serve Him.

However, in light of the events of "chet haEgel" [see our shiur on Parshat Ki-Tisa] it became apparent how Bnei Yisrael were barely worthy of this encounter.  It was only God's attributes of Mercy that allowed His "shechinah" to dwell in the Mishkan.  One could suggest that to emphasize this very point, an extra procedure is required specifically for the KOHANIM and for the MIZBEACH, for they represent Bnei Yisrael in this encounter.

[Note that immediately after Matan Torah, the mizbeach is referred to as a "mizbeach ADAMah" (see Shmot 20:21). This may relate to man's name - "adam" and his creation in Gan Eden "afar min ha'adamah".  This is reflected in the Midrash that claims that this "afar" was taken from Har HaMoriah, the site of the mizbeach of the Akedah, and later to become the site of the Temple.]

Why Seven?

Why must this "hakdasha" be repeated for seven days?

Whenever we find the number 'seven' in Chumash, it invariably relates to perek aleph in Breishit, i.e. the story of God's creation of nature, in seven days.

God's very first act of "kedusha" was to 'set aside' the SEVENTH day, to mark His completion of the Creation process (see Br. 2:1-4). By 'resting' on this day, man is constantly reminded of the divine purpose of His creation. Thus, the "kedusha" of shabbat reflects this divine purpose of creation.

Similarly, any procedure that includes the number seven (be it seven items, seven times, seven days, seven weeks, seven years etc.) emphasizes man's requirement to recognize the purpose of his creation. By repeating this procedure of "kedushat ha'mizbayach v'hakohanim"' for seven days, the purpose of the mizbayach to become a vehicle through which man can come closer to God is emphasized.

[Once again, we find a connection between the function of the Mishkan and the purpose of the creation. This was discussed in the shiur on Parshat Vayakhel. It is supported by numerous Midrashim which view the construction of the Mishkan as the completion of Creation.  Compare carefully Shemot 39:32 to Br.2:1; and Shemot 39:43 to Br.1:31 & 2:3!]

With this background, we can suggest that the seven day miluim ceremony serves a double purpose, thus explaining why its details is found twice.

In Sefer Shmot, the "miluim" service infuses the Mishkan and its vessels with the necessary "kedusha", and hence becomes an integral stage of the Mishkan's CONSTRUCTION. Therefore, its commandment is included in Trumah/Tzaveh together with all the other commandments to build the Mishkan.

In Sefer Vayikra it initiates the use of the Mizbayach, the primary FUNCTION of the Mishkan. The korbanot offered during the miluim represent the basic categories of sacrifices that will be brought by man on the Mizbayach:

  • the Chatat - "the korban chova";
  • the Olah - the "korban nedava";
  • the Ayl ha'miluim - the prototype of the "korban shelamim";

Therefore, this narrative that describes the offering of the korbanot during this ceremony is included in Sefer Vayikra, and juxtaposed to the laws of Korbanot (Parshiyot Vayikra/Tzav).

[Note now 7:37 and the inclusion of "torat ha'miluim" in the summary pasuk of Parshat Tzav!]